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Posted on Jun 27th 2009 at 12:12:01 AM by ([Kimoosabi:realName])
Posted under Review, Viking, Xbox 360

Your Blog Editor / Site Director sometimes misses cool articles that should be promoted. Sorry about that. Enjoy this article, over a month after it was originally published. It's a good one. -TJ

Viking: Battle for Asgard was released on March 25th, 2008 on both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Though it received mostly favorable reviews, it was greeted with little fanfare by the gaming populace. It slipped under my radar as well, but after hearing positive word-of-mouth, I decided to give it a go. This review is specifically for the Xbox 360 version, though from what I gather the Playstation 3 version is nearly, if not completely identical.

You take up the hefty axe and sword of a Viking warrior named Skarin, a hulking brute renowned for his ability to smash skulls and cleave spines. The story kicks off with a fatally wounded Skarin falling on the battlefield, only to be spared and given new life by the Norse God Freya, daughter of Odin. In return, she demands Skarin fight for her against the legion of Hel, the Queen of the Underworld, daughter of Loki. Hel has been cast out of the immortal plane of Asgard for disobeying Odin, and has vowed revenge by way of releasing Fenrir. Unshackling the wolf god will initiate Ragnarok, resulting in the ultimate demise of all the Norse Gods. Skarin is charged with hacking and slashing his way through Hel's forces across Midgard, the mortal realm, before her plan comes to fruition.

Fortunately, Freya does not send you forth without aid. She bestows upon Skarin her magical amulet, the Brisingamen. This trinket acts as your radar in-game, highlighting several key elements of your surroundings, such as quest-givers, shopkeepers, and enemy mini-bosses. It can be upgraded by purchasing gold maps, which allows the Brisingamen to display all nearby gold caches. Gold is of utmost importance, as it is used to purchase new combat maneuvers, magical runes for your weapons, and other miscellaneous items. Runes enhance your arsenal with the power of three elements: ice, lightning, and fire. Each element provides your weapons with unique magic-based attacks.

Combat in this game is bloody and brutal. On the surface, the combat mechanics seem shallow, as the earlier enemies can be taken down by simply mashing the "A" button. However, soon enough you start encountering enemies who may be too agile, or too heavily armored for your regular attacks to handle. For the stubborn, continuing to chip away at these enemies with the basic attacks is possible, but acquiring more advanced attacks makes things easier, and frankly a lot more fun. Once you start unlocking various moves at the Battle Arena, it becomes apparent that the combat is as deep as you want it to be. "Rage" attacks, for example, can be used strategically to tackle troublesome adversaries. Slow rage attacks are vicious, and can tear through an enemy's shield with ease. Fast rage attacks can catch a speedy foe off guard, giving Skarin an opening to attack.

This game certainly lives up to its "M" Rating, as enemies are frequently dismembered, beheaded, and beaten to a bloody mush at the receiving end of Skarin's weapons. When enough damage has been done to a basic foe, you are prompted to press the "X" button via an indicator over the creature's head. Doing so initiates a finishing flourish, resulting in a barrage that rends enemies limb from limb. When facing a mini-boss, the process is similar, but instead of performing a finishing blow, you begin a Quick Time Event to take down your nemesis, reminiscent of the God of War games.

The war against Hel takes place over three different islands, each one representing an act in the overall story. The objectives on each island are more or less the same: free your Viking brethren from the hands of Hel's legion to increase the size of your army, liberate important supply points like farms and mills to bolster your supplies, and besiege and reclaim important strongholds to loosen Hel's grip on the land. Assaulting strongholds is one of the more entertaining and unique aspects of this title, as you lead your entire army against hundreds of Hel's legion at once. You do not have direct control over your fellow soldiers in these skirmishes, but they handle themselves pretty well. These battles are epic in scale, with surprisingly minimal slow-down despite having hundreds of NPCs onscreen at once.

Visually, this title excels. All three islands have diverse, colorful landscapes, ranging from lush green valleys to lava-streaked mountainsides. The aesthetic promotes the atmosphere of Norse mythology perfectly, blending vivid fantasy with stark barbarism. Water effects in particular impress, with several cascading waterfalls, rushing rivers, and oceans full of large, rolling waves. Strongholds and watchtowers loom overhead imposingly, and cities are flush with life. On the downside, character designs are uninspired, with your NPC allies and adversaries alike all appearing very similar.

I have two chief complaints against Viking: Battle for Asgard, the first being the narrative. There is very little story being told here, outside of the occasional cut-scene that occurs between acts. You are aware of your main objective from the onset, and it never wavers. The second complaint is the lack of music. The sound in general is adequate; voice acting is nothing special but serviceable, and combat and ambient sound effects are decent. Music, however, is only present during assaults on strongholds. The music that is there fits the atmosphere of the grand battles well, but that is the only music present during the entire game, which is disappointing.

If you're a fan of hack and slash action/adventure titles, I definitely recommend giving Viking: Battle for Asgard a try. It's a little on the short side, taking me about 10 hours total to complete, and unfortunately offers little replay value. However, it is a refreshing entry in a genre that doesn't get much love in this current generation, and is certainly worth at least a rental.

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1 2 3!
Great review, Matt!
Great review but why do people keep posting reviews in blogs only?
Toss it on the gamepage in the DB too!
Very well written review, Matt.
This was indeed a really good game, despite having little replay value.
I will for sure be adding the game to my collection because of this review. Thanks!
Nice review, I'll have to pick this up one day.

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